Sunday, 6 April 2014

Leigh Griffiths

A few years ago I was part of a five-a-side game at Portobello (on the North East of Edinburgh). One week we were down to eight men and having the usual debate about whether or not eight men in their late 20s could, in fact, run around for 60 minutes without the occasional respite of going in goals.

Two younger lads came over and said they'd spotted we were short and they'd be happy to make up the numbers. We delightedly agreed and one of these terrors went on each team.

The first was - by some margin - better than everyone else on the pitch. The second - a bleach blonde wunderkind - could do things with a ball that I don't think I'd seen outside Youtube compilations. He dominated the game. In the early stages he was content being better than everyone and winning the game on his own, running the show. As the game progressed he went to another level pulling out tricks and flicks and scoring ever more ridiculous goals. 

At the end I went over, shook their hands and said 'You should be a pro'. He laughed, thanked me and walked off. His mate said 'do you not know who he is? That's Leigh Griffiths'.

On the bus home I googled him. He was the top scorer in Scotland's Division 1 with Livingston. He's wracked up - at that time - twenty goals in a season. This jarred. I've played against lads who went on to a higher level than Scotland's Division 1. I've seen players at higher levels who didn't have the innate talent of this kid. I thought maybe it was the old application vs skill conundrum.

In another fives game I played with one of the scouts for Hearts and asked about Griffiths. He chuckled and said everyone in Scottish football knew Griffiths but he'd always been too troublesome. Too many issues. Not worth the risk. It was this scout's view Griffiths had the talent to be a Scotland international and the ability to play at a high level in England. The trouble was the baggage. The trouble wasn't on the pitch.

A couple of years later I found myself at a corporate hospitality thing at Dundee United vs Rangers. An MSP with a background in journalism was my jovial company and he said the same thing. 'Daft wee laddie. All the talent in the world, mind'.

Since then Griffiths has moved to England, been loaned back to his boyhood team (scoring bucketloads as he went), made his international debut and signed for Celtic.

The predictions - on both sides - were right. He did have the talent. He's playing reasonably for Celtic, scoring goals and has worn the navy blue. He has though consistently found his way into trouble - on and off the pitch.

The previous misdemeanours - the screaming at a McDonald's worker for putting gherkins on his Happy Meal etc - are significantly less serious than the video that is doing the rounds this morning of him seeming to sing (with many other Hibs fans) a racist song about Hearts' former great, Rudi Skacel.

Sad as it is that anyone thinks that 'refugee' is a term of abuse, something to mock, or something to be ashamed of: there are serious consequences for him and his new club. Celtic - who were warned about Griffiths by many (including many of their fans who are shaking their heads today) - now require to discipline him. I expect that they shall both swiftly and harshly.

They - and others in Scottish football - have had to deal with chanting that the club and the law (rightly or wrongly) view as inappropriate. All Celtic's hard work and - at times - tumultuous negotiations with the Green Brigade will now be compared to how they deal with a reasonably senior player engaging in an allegedly racist singsong. I think they will come down on him like a ton of bricks and expect most supporters to back that. He may well leave the club. That is probably the best and worst option available.

But this comes back to a wider point. Many of our talented youngsters come from very difficult backgrounds. Fame and fortune can corrupt many and it is amazing they corrupt so few in football. English football has lost many talents because they weren't managed or cared for properly. Griffiths may be about to join that roll call. Not good for him or for Scottish football. We need talented players playing at their best. 

Did I see this coming? Yes. Not this incident but something. It seemed preordained. How many other international prospects hang around five a side games looking for a kickabout? How many others are avoided by clubs because they aren't worth the bother?

A fine player, yes, but one who consistently makes regrettable choices. All sadly predictable and, in every sense of the word, very sad 


1 comment:

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